Polyploidy is a frequent phenomenon in the eukaryotic world, but the biological properties of polyploid cells are not well understood. During evolution, polyploidy is thought to be an important mechanism that contributes to speciation. Polyploid, usually non-dividing, cells are formed during development in otherwise diploid organisms. A growing amount of evidence indicates that polyploid cells also arise during a variety of pathological conditions. Genetic instability in these cells might provide a route to aneuploidy and thereby contribute to the development of cancer.